OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Most film festivals can be counted on to provide entertainment, with some introspection.
The week-long FESPACO that opens Saturday in the violence-torn capital of Burkina Faso goes beyond that to offer hope as well, and a symbol of resilience: In years of political strife and Islamist extremist attacks, which have killed and displaced thousands almost 2 million in the West African country. , it was never cancelled.
“We only have FESPACO left to prevent us from thinking about what is going on,” said Maimouna Ndiaye, a Burkinabe actress who has four submissions in this year’s competition. “This is the event that must be canceled regardless of the situation.”
Since the last edition of the biennial festival in Ouagadougou, the country’s troubles have increased. Successive government failures to halt extremist violence prompted two military coups last year, with each junta leader promising security – but with few results.
At least 70 soldiers were killed in two attacks earlier this month in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso. The fighting also sowed discord among a once peaceful population, pitting communities and ethnicities against each other.
However, more than 15,000 people, including celebrities from Nigeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast, are expected in Ouagadougou for FESPACO, the largest film festival in Africa launched in 1969.
About 1,300 films were submitted for consideration and 100 were selected to compete from 35 countries in Africa and the diaspora, including films from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Almost half of those who will be in the fiction competition this year are women.
Among them is the Burkinabe director and producer Apolline Traore, whose film “Sira” – considered to be the frontrunner in this year’s competition – is a symbol of the suffering of many Burkinabes. It tells the story of a woman’s struggle to survive after being kidnapped by jihadis in the Sahel, and her fiancé trying to find her.
However, Traore is excited about his country’s prospects.
“The world has painted Burkina Faso as a red country. It’s dangerous to come to my country, as they say,” she told the Associated Press. “We’re probably a little crumbled but we’re not down.”
Government officials say that security has been increased and will ensure the safety of festival attendees.
Many hope that FESPACO will help boost domestic unity and strengthen ties with other countries, at a time when anti-French sentiment is growing in Burkina Faso.
Wolfram Vetter, the ambassador of the European Union in Burkina Faso, called the film festival “an important contribution to peace and reconciliation in Burkina Faso and beyond.”
The EU is the biggest funder of the event after the government of Burkina Faso, and contributed about 250,000 euros ($265,000).